Richie Havens – Stonehenge (1970)

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Richie Havens
STONEHENGE
Released 1970, Stormy Forest

    Open Your Eyes     2:48
Minstrel     3:28
It Could Be The First Day     2:15
Ring Around The Moon     2:05
Baby Blue     4:50
There’s A Hole In The Future     1:59
I Started A Joke     2:51
Prayer     2:54
Tiny Little Blues     1:57
Shouldn’t All The World Be Dancing     7:58

    Richie Havens – guitar, autoharp, sitar, koto, vocals
Warren Bernhardt – organ
Daniel Ben Zebulon – drums, conga
Monte Dunn – guitar
Donny Gerrard – bass
Ken Lauber – piano
Bill Lavorgna – drums
Eric Oxendine – bass
Bill Shepherd Singers – string arrangements
Paul “Dino” Williams – guitar

“To all the temples built by man of stone and other transient material: I wish to live to see them all crumble into truth and piles of light!
    And to the temple where divinity resides, even with all your newcomers: How quiet!
    To divinity: (the socio-physio-spiritus-harmonious-concludus) It is a pleasure to know you!


     And least and last, to the body, the substance, the hull, the distinguished main portion, the vessel of molecular pilots and passengers, and its power receiving, transmitting, perceiving, transcending equipment: The truth temple, I’ve seen your face, the earth and its inhabitants, a magnanimous collection.  Concentrate on your heartbeats, regulate your breathing even so that flowers may live.
 – Richard P. Havens “

On Monday
April 22, Richie Havens passed away.  I
saw Richie play a few times in small clubs and was lucky enough to have talked with him briefly one such occasion.  He was always approachable and interested in
talking to his fans after a performance.
Here was this man who was a living legend of his generation, with an
instantly recognizable style and always-evocative musical presence, and he
seemed genuinely just grateful that people came to hear him sing.  In a way it seemed this fact was all that
mattered – that people were still listening.
   Note that I did not say “grateful that people still came to hear him sing” because
this had nothing to do with his age – he was well into his 60s the last time I saw him perform – or out
of some pop-singer’s vanity to feel relevant.
It mattered that people were still listening because he still believed
in the urgency of his message as much as he did when he started out.  His message
and his music had not changed much in a half century of recording and
performing, and he put them both across to us in a voice that never
wavered.  He had a wise voice, ageless
and now quite literally eternal.  You can listen to his singing on “Mixed Bag” (1967) and follow it with “Wishing Well” (2002) and be forgiven for thinking they were recorded around the same time.
     He will forever be associated with the opening scenes of the Woodstock film that captured him improvising the tune “Freedom” at the end of a nearly three-hour set, killing time for the rock bands to get their gear to the stage.  And he continued to represent the best utopian qualities of that historic moment soon to be overshadowed by the excesses of the era.  As most of his contemporaries succumbed to various combinations of self-destruction, greed, madness or mediocrity, he continued waging peace for the rest of his career.  He became the most refreshing of anachronisms.  A person who believed – really believed – that music could change the world one person at a time.  A figure who seemed incapable of cynicism in his music or his life.  Hell, he could even make promotional work for the cotton industry sound noble.
You can’t go wrong with any of Richie’s first ten or so albums, and Stonehenge is lodged right in between two of my favorites – the double album “1983” and “Alarm Clock.”  The latter LP was his highest charting success, largely on the heals of an inspired version of ‘Hear Comes The Sun.’  While Richie was a fantastic songwriter he sort of became known for his covers of other peoples’ hits and giving them his personal stamp.  Usually songs associated with sixties counterculture folk/rock icons like Donovan, The Beatles, and Dylan.  Here he tackles “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” a song so good it is probably impossible to do a bad version of it, and the Bee Gee’s “I Started A Joke,” which also happens to be one of my favorite tunes (as I mentioned when blogging about Ronnie Von’s Portuguese adaptation of it over here).  The album opens with a tune by gospel artist Leon Lumkins, “Open Our Eyes,” also recorded by Funkadelic and which would  become the title track of an Earth, Wind and Fire album a few years later.  Havens version is better than both and more moving, as well as truer to the original.  It’s a lovely prayer to begin a recording.
    I won’t give a song-by-song account because if you have never sat down and listened to it then you should just enjoy your own subjective impressions.  “Minstrel From Gaul” is a recognized classic and a song he never stopped playing live.  He shifts from the tender “It Could Be The First Day” to the angular “Ring Around The Moon” seamlessly.  The song “Prayer” brings us back to gospel territory and reminds us of Richie’s roots singing in vocal groups and doo-wop.  It’s a Havens composition and the last one on the album to feature real vocals; it also seems that Richie may have overdubbed all the harmonies himself, if the album jacket credits are trustworthy. The instrumentation throughout the LP is changed up constantly, presenting new textures, and the arrangements are all excellent.  Also, unlike his first couple of LPs – and I mention this only because I was just listening to them yesterday and today – this one was recorded and mixed really well, which helps things a lot.  The record kind of tapers off a little towards the end with the rather disposable instrumental “Tiny Little Blues” (dobro fans will be pleased by an unexpected appearance from David Bromberg) followed immediately by an eight-minute freakout jam (lyricless but with some spoken word) that closes the proceedings.  It is tempting to think they needed to fill ten more minutes and had no more songs left, but Havens often managed to insert something experimental or vaguely improvisatory into his early records.  And this intense finale, “Shouldn’t All The World Be Dancing” is shot through with Havens ecological, spiritual, and anti-war sentiments.  It is a surprisingly dissonant way to close a record, perhaps the musical rendering of his call in the liner notes to see “all the temples built by man… crumble into truth and piles of light.”  Richie Havens didn’t live to see that vision come to fruition here on Spaceship Earth.  But he did leave us a huge body of work through his searching.
Listen to a little piece of it today.
Also: MORE AUTOHARP!
I could post a YouTube clip to something off this album but why not share the original recording of that Lumkins tune:

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Karma – Karma (1972) {O Terço, Arthur Verocai)

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Karma
“Karma”
Released originally on RCA-Victor 1972 (103.0046)
This reissue Selo Cultural 2010

01. Do Zero Adiante
02. Blusa de Linho
03. Você Pode Ir Além
04. Epílogo
05. Tributo ao Sorriso
06. O Jogo
07. Omissão
08. Venha Pisar na Grama
09. Transe Uma
10. Cara e Coroa

Jorge Amiden – vocals, “tritarra” (3-neck guitar), 12-string electric guitar, nylon and steel-string acoustics, 12-string ‘viola’, electric and acoustic guitars, arrangements
Luiz Junior – vocals, acoustic and electric guitars
Allen Terra – vocals, bass, acoustic guitar, 12-string “viola”

with
Oberdan Magahlães – flute
Gustavo Schroeter – drums
Bill – drums
Ian Guest – cravo
Rido Hora – harmonica

Arrangements and orchestrations by Arthur Verocai

Album cover – Bartholo

Recordgin technicians – Emiliano, Eugenio, Dilson, Ademar
Mastering and acetate cut by Milton Araújo

Reissue supervision, research, and liner notes by Charles Gavin
Remastered from the original tapes by Ricardo Garcia at Magic Master (Rio)

A decent review in Portuguese from the extinct blog “Som Barato”

Quote:

Esquecido num sítio na periferia do Rio, o compositor, guitarrista e fundador de O Terço e do Karma, Jorge Amiden, tenta recuperar a saúde abalada pelo uso de drogas e das (pouquíssimas) viagens que fez com LSD no início dos anos 1970. “Foram muito boas, mas custei a voltar delas”, diz o nosso afável Syd Barrett. Jorge é o compositor da inesquecível ‘Tributo ao Sorriso’ (em parceria com Hinds) e de tantas outras canções geniais do repertório de O Terço (1970 a 1971) e do Karma (1972). Era ele o principal arquiteto dos vocais harmoniosos de ambas as bandas. Além do mais, gravou um antológico LP com o Karma, participou do disco ‘Sonhos e Memórias’ de Erasmo Carlos e integrou a banda de Milton Nascimento. Depois, com o cérebro golpeado, se afastou dos palcos. Seguiu-se, então, um longo e indesejável ostracismo. Mas Jorge quer voltar, quer a música “viva” de volta a sua vida. E nós, órfãos de sua brilhante musicalidade, torcemos para que ele encontre o fio da meada, a luz no fim do túnel, a glória de um final fez.

Após romper com O terço, Amiden logo encontrou novos parceiros. Com Luiz Mendes Junior (violão e vocal) e Alen Cazinho Terra (baixo e vocal), irmão de Renato Terra, o guitarrista daria início a sua trajetória de pouco mais de um ano como líder do Karma. Ramalho Neto, da RCA, não teve dúvidas em contratar a banda antes mesmo de ouví-la. Reconhecia o talento de Amiden e antevia um belo disco do Karma para a RCA.

E foi o que aconteceu. Pouco tempo depois, a RCA distribuía na praça o LP homônimo do Karma, uma obra antológica que merece constar de qualquer lista dos melhores discos da história do rock brasileiro. Com uma sonoridade predominantemente acústica servindo de base para a primorosa vocalização do trio, ‘Karma’ é recheado de canções brilhantes, como ‘Do Zero Adiante’ (Amiden e Mendes Junior), ‘Blusa de Linho’ (Amiden e Rodrix) e a revisitada ‘Tributo Ao Sorriso’ (Amiden e Hinds). Esta, levada quase até seu final em a capela, servia para realçar ainda mais a força vocal do conjunto. Vale destacar a participação do baterista Gustavo Schroeter (então integrante da Bolha), que ajudou a abrilhantar o disco com sua batida sempre consistente, arrojada e precisa.

E foi com Gustavo na bateria que o Karma fez o show de lançamento do disco no Grajaú Tênis Clube. Lamentavelmente, este pequeno tesouro concebido por Amiden jamais foi reeditado. Possivelmente hiberna nos arquivos da RCA desde o seu lançamento, em 1972, como hibernam tantas outras obras importantes nos arquivos das gravadoras brasileiras.

Em sua curta vigência sob a liderança de Amiden, o Karma ainda participou do VII Festival Internacional da Canção Popular, em setembro de 1972. Foi quando defendeu ‘Depois do Portão’ (Amiden e Mendes Junior). Em 1973, nos primeiros meses do ano, durante um show no Clube de Regatas Icaraí, em Niterói, depois de misturar bebida com drogas, Amiden perde o controle do próprio cérebro. O solo de guitarra parece interminável… Depois, sentado à beira da praia com Mário, se perde em plano existencial paralelo, vagando inseguro e solitário pelo lado escuro da lua.
Jorge só encontra a saída do enovelado e desconhecido labirinto no dia seguinte, quando percebe que o mundo não é mais o mesmo, o Karma não é mais o mesmo, a música não é mais a mesma…E nem sua vida seria mais a mesma. Dos palcos, se afasta…para na calma do tempo, quem sabe uma luz como guia, em dado momento, conceda algum dia seu retorno sereno.

In a musical universe where psychedelic, progressive, and psych-folk “lost gems” are unearthed on a fairly regular basis, I may have found myself growing complacent and, yes, even skeptical about such discoveries and the praise heaped upon them. But this record is worth every superlative, hyperbolic, histrionic descriptor that has been thrown at it over the years. Long available as crappy mp3s around the interwebs, I am finally delighted to own a legitimate and great-sounding copy.

I enjoy the early O Terço albums just fine, but they didn’t prepare me for this. To my ears this is on a whole other transcendent level. It is also the swan-song of co-founder Jorge Amiden, who put together this band after leaving O Terço only to record this one album and then basically retire from music. The review above in Portuguese, although well-written and respectful, plays on the ‘acid casualty’ legend of Amiden, comparing him as ‘our’ Syd Barrett, and relating an apocryphal tale of a famous final show in 1973 where Amiden mixed heavy drinking with unspecified drugs (presumably of a psychedelic variety) that resulted in one endless guitar solo and a night spent sitting on the beach traveling to other dimensions upon return from which he would never be the same. Well, ok. That very well might have happened but honestly it doesn’t concern me much. People quit playing music for all kinds of reasons. Other people love to tell stories about why they did so. Some of them are true. Some of them miss the point. In some cases we never know the ‘why’ or ‘how’ of it. All I know is this is one HELL of an album. And Charles Gavin, whose taste is impeccable and who tends to base what he writes on actual research and factual knowledge, attributes the end of the band to internal differences and conflict within the band. Obviously that’s not mutually exclusive from drug-related issues but it relocates the emphasis.

Jorge Amiden plays the “tri-guitar” all over this record, an invention of his own that was a triple-necked guitar with varying numbers of strings and tunings, as well as a hell of a lot of other instruments. From the rather cheesy album-cover, you would think this group was a trio. Officially that’s the case but they had a lot of help from some fine musicians. Oberdon Magalhães gives a fantastic flute solo on “Blusa de linho.” One other particular stand-out is drummer Gustavo Shroeder, who manages to play HEAVY in a delicate way — I can’t really articulate it, but somehow he manages to balance on the high-wire of these delicate, melodic songs without crapping all over them, and he has a drumming style that is very individual. And I love the way the drums are recorded. The bass of Allen Terra is also very well articulated here, punchy (Rickenbacher?) and melodic. The whole album is recorded and mixed extremely well, and the arrangements of strings are top notch — all of which can be credited to the presence of Arthur Verocai in the studio.

The songs mix angelic harmonies (often Beatle-esque) with a hypnotic acoustic passages some rocking as well. The album is sequenced almost, but not quite, like a type of song-cycle – the transitions between the tunes on the first half are breathtaking, deliciously moody, and near-perfect. By which I mean, can someone who owns the original vinyl tell me if the two notes at the beginning of “Você pode ir além” as they appear here are a TRUE false-start, or is this a mastering error? I’m curious because it throws off the rhythm of what would be a triumphal transition from the previous tune, but then again I can find that kind of charming as well. A very angular, progressive “Epilógo” gives way to “Tributo ao sorriso” (Tribute to a smile) that is sung as a cappella harmony for two-thirds of is length before drifting into a lush, wordless, full-band coda replete with relaxed, strummy guitar melodies (I hesitate to call them solos), astral plane string arrangements, and harpsichord. Less stalwart bands, such as any band without Arthur Verocai around to help them, probably would have resorted to mellotron on this track. Which would have sounded pretty damn cool, in truth, but having real strings only adds to the velvet tapestry here.

I am running out of hyperbolic superlatives here. The rest of the album continues at the same level of transcendent bliss. They even manage to pull off an intense instrumental, “Transe uma” that pushes the psychedelic envelope without tipping the balance they’ve struck with the rest of the compositions, before going out on one final melancholic song with full vocal harmonies.

Perhaps Jorge Amiden just managed to trascend samsara while creating this masterpiece and step off the wheel of karma, thus eliminating the need to keep recording music. Well, that is MY story and I am sticking to it.

Can this even be called a “lost” gem? It was praised in its time by critics and public alike (as Gavin states) but the bands demise and changes in musical fashion have made the original record all but impossible to find and given it legendary status. Big kudos to the Selo Cultural label (run by the bookstore Livraria Cultura in partnership with Sony) who have made this available again. Enjoy!

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Gonzaguinha – Luiz Gonzaga Jr.. (1974)

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Gonazaguinha
“Luiz Gonzaga Jr.”
Released 1974

01 É preciso
02 Piada infeliz
03 Meu coração é um pandeiro
04 Uma família qualquer
05 Pois é, seu Zé
06 Rabisco n’areia
07 Assum preto
08 Amanhã ou depois
09 Galope
10 Desesperadamente

Sidney Matos – acoustic and electric guitars, organ, electric piano, bass
Arnaldo Luis – bass, acoustic guitar
João Cortez – drums, percussion
Gonzaga Jr. – acoustic guitar, percussion, vocals

Produced by Milton Miranda
Musical direction / arrangements – Maestro Gaya
Production assistant: Renato Corrêa
Technical director – Z.J. Merky
Recording technician – Toninho / Nivaldo
Remix engineer – Nivaldo Duarte

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For the last few days I have been thinking of Egypt, how distant it all seems, and how the people around me seem largely unconscious, somnambulantly disinterested of the historical importance of what is going on there, and how it effects all of us. I’m sure I could have chosen to upload any number of more ‘appropriate’ albums but I have been listening to this one a lot lately and it was sitting here waiting for an upload.

Luiz Gonzaga Jr., o “Gonzaguinha”, did not make music for throwing a good party. He could have made a career just off the simple fact that he was the son of the King of Baião, Luiz Gonzaga, and been a mediocre forró singer and still sold tons of albums just by that association. Instead, he chose a different path, that of a deeply-poetic composer more in the mold of the singer-songwriter archetype that became more common in the 1970s seemingly everywhere in the world, but in Brazil often had a directly proportional relationship to the political repression happening in the country. By the early 70s, the ‘movimento estudantil’ was in tatters, the UNE (the universities’ student unions) officially dissolved by the military dicatorship, their meetings resulting in persecution, harassment, disappearances. As the 60s came to a close, the rather heavy-handed and preachy protest music of “música engajada” from the likes of Geraldo Vandre became more a thing of the past, as the optimism that protest music could change the situation and mobilize people faded, and Tropicália’s confrontational iconoclasm challenged its musical and ontological premises. The increased censorship after ‘Institutional Act 5″ of 1968 shut down the Brazilian Congress and gave absolute power to the military resulted in a change of tactics for the socially-conscious activist-oriented songwriter. The usual example is Chico Buarque, who is famous for having his material censored during this period and would perfect the use of the quotidian metaphor as a vehicle for expressions of social unrest, creating more elusive, complex works that were consequently more difficult to challenge by the censorship boards.

But, obviously, there were other wordsmiths besides Chico that were adepts at this. Gonzaguinha is part of a post-68 generation of singer-songwriters that would also include Belchior and Fagner. These latter two were both from the northeastern state of Ceará; Gonzaguinha was born in Rio, but his father was basically a walking-talking-singing symbol of northeastern-ness, and born in Pernambuco. I always think of all three of them together for some reason, but Gonzaguinha’s musical output precedes the other two slightly. They all their own styles of writing and performance, but shared a certain atmospheric vibe and themes in their early music.

This album is pretty much all down-beat, heavy, somber material. The album opens with the mind-blowing song “É preciso” which has become probably my favorite composition of his. Lyrically framing a scenario of (under-valued) domestic labor of a mother and the child by her side who accompanies her at home, in the streets, in the open street markets, the words seem to recount the memories of the singer/narrator of his own growing up and a remembered or imagined dialog with his mother as he reflects on his life. The couplet that is repeated and slightly rephrased throughout the song, “Labutar é preciso; lutar é preciso” (hard work/labor is necessary; to struggle is necessary) is sung first as wisdom imparted from mother to son while she works at washing laundry. Later it is sung back from son to mother as the son struggles to get by on his own as a young man. The parallels with the political oppression, the crushing of the labor and student movements, the clandestine groups working to overthrow or at least undermine the military dictatorship … All of this runs like a subterranean undercurrent beneath the words sung in the plaintive voice of Luiz that grows more urgent and pleading as the song moves along.

The fastest tempo on the album is the song ‘Galope’ which is still manages to be dissonant and dark. All of the songs are originals except “Assum Preto” which is from Gonzagão (his dad) and Humberto Teixeira, and which Gonzaguinha makes almost unrecognizable from its original version, slowing it down and somewhat pulling it apart. The instrumentation and performances are all wonderful, impeccable musicianship that shines precisely because the musicians know when to hold back and let the song carry *them*, embellishing the music with occasional twists of avant garde post-psychedelic dissonance. The album is consistently great – “Piada infeliz”, “Meu coração é um pandeiro”, “Uma família qualquer”, “Desesperadamente” – there is cinematic majesty and power in these songs, the key to which is their understatement and lack of histrionics.

So give this record a listen. While pockets of resistance in the Arab world try and reclaim their rights after decades of oligarchical tyranny and dictatorships sponsored by powerful allies in the United States and the European community, remember that these struggles have taken place elsewhere and will continue to take place until every last human is free from repression and political violence. Until that unlikely utopia comes about, “LUTAR É PRECISO.”

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